Fernando DiLeo: Maestro of Italian Crime Cinema

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Fernando DiLeo wrote and directed some of the best works in the poliziotteschi (Italian crime) genre. Films like Milano Calibro 9, La Mala Ordina, Mr. Scarface and Il Boss gave viewers a very clear look at mafia life in 1970s Italy. To me DiLeo did for poliziotteschi what Leone did for spaghetti westerns, in that he brought an extremely vivid, stylized atmosphere to the genre. His brand of filmmaking as well as his characters and dialogue were big and bold which made his movies very appealing to a wide variety of audiences. He also was not afraid to deal with strong images and themes of violence. Coming from Italy, the birthplace of the Mafia, the real life assassinations and wars within those organizations were extremely violent in their methods and that found its way into the polizio films of the 1970s. DiLeo was one of the leaders in the genre and used his work to express the contempt the Italian citizens had for these ruthless mobsters. Of course at the same time, those kinds of stories made for very exciting experiences on the big screen.

MILANO CALIBRO 9 (1972)

Nothing is more explosive than the pre-credits sequences for Fernando DiLeo’s crime films and the opening of Milano Calibro 9 is no different. Let’s just say when you cross the mob in this film, they will literally blow you up!

An ex-con named Ugo Piazza (The Godfather II’s Gastone Moschin) has just been released from jail and his old fellow mafia members led by the loudmouth tough guy Rocco (Mario Adorf) are waiting for him. It seems that everyone in the family thinks he stole $300,000 of their money before being imprisoned but Ugo flatly denies it at every prodding or beating by Rocco and his gang of thugs.

The film revolves around Ugo, but Mario Adorf’s Rocco steals every scene. This guy is like a bull in a china shop. He actually looks like a shorter stout Italian version of Clark Gable. Gastone Moschin is great as the stoic, cool Ugo. He doesn’t talk alot, instead he goes for a more subdued style mostly reacting to those around him instead of being over the top. Nevertheless he really is great in the movie.

Ugo goes to visit his buddy Kino (Phillipe Leroy) the only guy he really trusts, to see if he can borrow some money to pay for the room Rocco destroyed. Soon after Ugo arrives at Kino’s flat, Rocco comes barging in again trying to start trouble. He grabs the money Kino lent Ugo but Kino goes nuts and starts beating up Rocco and his men, then Ugo gets into it. Rocco totally turns a 180 and backs right down seeing he’s outmanned. Ugo next goes to see his old flame Nelly (Barbara Bouchet) while Rocco and Marcado’s men continue to keep an eye on every move he makes.

The story for this film has some really great twists, especially towards the end where you realize the rugs been pulled out from you all along. The last scene of the film is especially memorable because it involves a change of heart by one of the films toughest characters.

For fans of Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Westerns you’ll notice several familiar faces including Lionel Stander (Once Upon a Time in The West) as the mob boss Marcado as well as Luigi Pistilli (The Good the Bad and the Ugly) and Frank Wolff (Once Upon A Time in the West) as the main police inspectors. The score by Luis Enriquez Bacalov & pop group Osanna is a knockout.

THE ITALIAN CONNECTION aka LA MALA ORDINA (1972)

Two New York City mob hitmen, Dave Catania (Henry Silva) and Frank Webster (Woody Strode) are hired to goto Milan and execute a small time pimp named Luca Canali (Mario Adorf) for stealing a heroin shipment. Once the two hitmen arrive in Milan, they begin asking around for Luca. They visit some hot nightclubs and flirt with the sexy Italian women. In one scene, Dave’s wallet is grabbed by a chick and when she doesn’t give it back to him he belts her. This doesn’t sit too well with the local guys, and a fight breaks out.

Meanwhile, Luca is unaware of this impending danger and we see him in his everyday average life visiting with his wife and daughter, cheating with his mistress and doing business. Silva & Strode are an interesting team up. While Silva’s character is rather jubilant and fun loving, Strode hardly talks, he just stares or squints at everything going on (could be because he didn’t understand Italian). The film plays like one big game of cat and mouse. The Milano mob headed by Don Vito (Adolfo Celi) are out for Luca as well before he can talk (since they are the ones who really hijacked the heroin shipment to New York). When they attack him he is confused and has no idea why they are picking on him. Mario Adorf is as usual, excellent in his performance. He’s the big lovable bull in a china shop who is always being kicked by everyone around him.

The movie drags a bit in certain spots, but when the action begins, its the most wildest, brutal kind you’ll ever see. It’s also very funny, as you’d expect from a DiLeo crime film. DiLeo was a master of mixing humor and over the top violence in his movies. That’s just one of the reasons I’m such a big fan of his work. Look for an out of control car/foot chase with one of Don Vito’s hitmen who does something that is extremely cruel to poor Luca which drives him into a frenzy to seek revenge.

This film is highly recommended to poliziotteschi fans and specifically Fernando DiLeo fans. NOTE: Writer-Director Quentin Tarantino was heavily influenced by DiLeo’s style, especially for his smash hit Pulp Fiction which also featured a white and black hitman team. This film is the second chapter in the Milano trilogy which also includes Milano Calibro 9 and Il Boss.

IL BOSS aka WIPEOUT (1973)

Lanzetta (Henry Silva) works for the big boss Don Corrasco (Richard Conte) and his associate Don Giuseppe Daniello (Claudio Nicastro) the man who raised him like a son. Like a good soldier, Lanzetta makes a hit on a rival family at the start of the film (one of the most badass violent pre-credit sequences ever!). When the family’s associate Cocchi (Pier Paolo Capponi) sees the bloody burnt aftermath, he is enraged and plans on getting revenge on Don Giuseppe. He figures out a way to hit him the hardest: kidnap his daughter! The only thing Cocchi didn’t predict was that Rina Daniello would be a complete sex crazed nymphomaniac. When Cocchi and his men get Rina back to their hideout, they begin to tell her how much she’s going to be used like a ragdoll. Instead of being afraid, she asks “Got a drink? I’m thirsty”. Cocchi’s men give her the Italian cinema drink of choice, J&B Scotch and Rina gets liquored up and ready to play.

Meanwhile, Don Giuseppe is in anguish over Rina being taken. Don Corrasco explains that Rina will probably die because the family will not cooperate with Cocchi no matter what. This would humiliate them and make them look weak. Lanzetta gets an idea to pretend that they will give a big ransom for Rina, but this is just a ploy to give him enough time to find out where she is. Lanzetta plans on bringing the money to Cocchi’s men with Don Giuseppe and another friend of the family. Don Giuseppe proceeds to thank Lanzetta for all his help, then BANG! Lanzetta kills Giuseppe and his friend. Afterwards, Lanzetta’s friend Pignatro (Marino Mase) is waiting and they take the bodies and throw them in a furnace. Lanzetta then grabs the money and meets with one of his contacts to get the whereabouts of Rina.

Lanzetta sneaks into Cocchi’s hideout while the men and Rina are having an orgy (what else would they be doing?). He then shoots the two men and brings her back to his hideout. The scenes between Henry Silva and Antonia Santilli are really hilarious. He slaps her around and calls her a “dirty fucking slut” one minute, then the next they’re kissing tenderly like it’s a love story. Rina is a foul mouthed wiseass and she continuously instigates Lanzetta into smacking her and telling her to get lost. With Cocchi and his men buzzing like angry Italian hornets looking for blood, Lanzetta has to stay put until he gets word from Don Corrasco for his next move…

The thing I love about DiLeo’s films is that EVERYONE is corrupt. Noone is safe from being knocked off at any time for any reason. If someone raised you and took care of you, but you see a better place to be, BINGO, you get rid of them. If someone is your boss and you have “loyalty” to them, it doesn’t mean jack. Noone really has any honor and noone can be trusted in the Mafia which is really what DiLeo was trying to get across with his crime films.

One of the films main highlights is the great Gianni Garko (Sartana, The Psychic, Five For Hell) as Police Comissario Torri. Instead of being the tough hero representing the police force, hes just another one of Don Corrasco’s stoolies. He has some great lines in the film and really makes the most of his screen time.

MR. SCARFACE (1976)

Tony (Harry Baer) is a small time collector for a local mafiosi. At the beginning of the film we get a look at how he does his job. The funny thing about Tony is hes not a big bouncer type guy. He looks like a ‘happy go lucky’ bohemian college kid. Still, when he doesn’t get his money, he knows how to kick ass. Tony works for Luigi who bases his loansharking business out of a small billiard room/casino in the city. One night, a new guy on the scene, Rick (Al Cliver) is playing poker and loses some big money, so his boss, Manzari (Jack Palance) aka “Scarface” has to come and pay his debt (he writes a check!). Before leaving the casino, Scarface has his thugs beat Rick up because he lost the money. Luckily, Tony is a nice guy, he helps Rick up and lets him crash at his pad.

When Tony finds out from Luigi that Scarface’s check is bad, he’s pissed because he doesn’t like being disrespected that way. Then he gets an idea: He hires a local actor to play an IRS inspector, while he takes the role of a guard. The actor and Tony get into Scarface’s office and steal the 10,000 lire Scarface didn’t pay. The scheme goes perfect but when Tony brings the money back to Luigi and explains HOW he got it, Luigi knows that Scarface will soon be gunning for all of them. Tony also has to contend with Peppi (Enzo Pulcrano) who is Luigi’s top lieutenant. Peppi doesn’t like Tony and the two have a fistfight but of course, Tony wins. Making the smart move before its too late, Peppi turns on Luigi and sets him up by having him come to a meeting on the outskirts of town. Peppi assassinates Luigi and starts working for Scarface.

When Scarface finds out about Tony’s sting operation from Peppi he sends his men after Tony, Rick and their friend, an older ex-mafiosi named Napoli (Vittorio Caprioli) who provides a lot of the film’s more comedic moments. After Scarface’s thugs find Napoli and are ready to kill him, Rick and Tony watch from outside his apartment and then make their move and take all the thugs out. Their final plan is to lure ol Scarface to an abandoned slaughterhouse (get the joke?) to sell him some cocaine. The climactic battle is a lot of fun to watch. Rick, Tony and Napoli take out all the thugs in a game of cat and mouse.

Mr. Scarface is one of my favorite poliziotteschi. It’s such an easy, enjoyable film to watch and all the characters are interesting and fun. The dialogue in the movie has got that trademark snappy, wise-cracking Fernando DiLeo style. It is just smooth like a good Italian wine and not overly violent, it’s got just the right amount. Plenty of shootouts, fist fights, foot chases and lots of humor. The great Jack Palance surprisingly doesn’t get alot of screentime or any big scenes in the film. He’s almost playing a minor role while most of the movie is focused on Tony, Rick and the other guys. The music by DiLeo collaborator Luis Enriquez Bacalov doesn’t feature the hard edged fuzzed out rock by Osanna as we heard in Il Boss, instead it has more simplistic sparse sound. Even the opening isn’t wild, it’s very subdued. Mr. Scarface is another classic from the 70s Italian crime genre.

This content was originally featured at The Deuce: Grindhouse Cinema Database

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Peter

Peter

Editor-In-Chief of The Deuce: Grindhouse Cinema Database/Furious Cinema contributor. Pete is a rabid movie geek who enjoys everything from wild n' crazy exploitation/cult flix to big budget mainstream classics. His other interests include: graphic design, cartooning and music.

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